2017 Dealers of the Year: Part 2

This year’s Dealers of the Year work hard at recruiting new archers with youth programs, inviting decor, exciting events, social media and tactics from complementary industries. Learn more here.
2017 Dealers of the Year: Part 2

La Crosse Archery

Anthony and Miranda Schmidt, Keith and Laura Rosenthal
1231 Oak Forest Drive
Onalaska, WI 54650
(608) 781-7752

La Crosse Archery is very much a family-run business. Although it’s grown considerably since the current owners purchased it in 2008, the four owners are very cognizant of the shop’s overall atmosphere and they work hard to ensure it remains a warm, welcoming place. In fact, the owners completely remodeled the shop when they first purchased it, bringing in an interior designer to achieve the right feel.

When the four owners – Keith and Laura Rosenthal, daughter Miranda and son-in-law Anthony Schmidt – decided to purchase a struggling archery pro shop, the first item on their agenda was coming up with a name for the company behind the shop. Laura and Miranda were very involved with target archery at the time, and to liven things up the two women would place a yellow duck sticker in the center of the target. So when the question about the business’ name came up, Miranda suggested “Shoot the Duck.” “Lacking a better name,” Keith Rosenthal remarked during our interview, “that became the name of our business.”

Today, it certainly seems fitting that the business’ name would have its roots in target archery. Although bowhunters still make up the core of La Crosse’s customer base, recreational archery is a growing part of the business – and a critical piece of the shop’s dedication to growing the local archery community. When the ATA debuted its original Retail Growth Initiative, La Crosse Archery embraced the concept wholeheartedly – a decision that has paid off in a big way.

With each of the four owners playing a distinct and different role in the company, La Crosse Archery benefits from a range of expertise. Keith, who still works as an executive at a local printing company in addition to his responsibilities at La Crosse, handles strategy and planning. Laura, who has previous banking experience, takes care of the financials or, as Keith puts it, “everything inside the office,” while Anthony runs everything “outside the office.” Meanwhile, Miranda manages the shop’s active social media presence.

And then there’s Halo, the La Crosse shop dog. Customers often find Halo sleeping near the entrance as they walk in (and if they don’t, they sometimes go looking for her), and Halo plays a big part in the company’s automated phone answering system.

All in all, the owners of La Crosse Archery have created a place where people engaged in all aspects of archery feel welcomed. What’s more, it’s a place where archers want to be.    

AB: What are the specific keys to your success?

“A lot of it has to do with continuing to reinvent our business, trying to adapt to what our customers would like without ever straying from who we are as owners,” Anthony said.

“I would say it’s the people,” Keith added. “I know that’s an over-used response, but it’s the dynamics that make it happen. Anthony has a very social background and a drive, and that’s necessary on the floor to connect with the customers. He also has a passion for archery. Laura has the banking background, and that helps from a financial standpoint. And then me with an executive background, more of the strategy and planning. We each have our roles to fill.”

“When we first looked at the business, we said, ‘Where can we make this business that we want to buy better?’” Laura said. “We decided we wanted to become a destination. This is a place you want to go to. There’s a reason for you to come and stay. The bowhunters will come and go when they need us. League season is more fun because these are the people who want to be here. We’re a destination for them.”

Keith agreed. “Laura brings up a good point. When we started the company, we had a business plan. Being a destination was a critical part of that plan. You have to have the look. You have to have the feel. Under the previous ownership there was no discipline as to what the employee apparel would be. So when you walked in, you had no idea who was running the store. There’s never any question about that now. It would have been very easy for us to wear a Mathews shirt or a Hoyt shirt or something like that. But we have our own company apparel.”

“It’s important for a store to have its own image and its own brand, so that way consumers can tie into the store and not necessarily the product,” Anthony said.

AB: How do you grow your customer base?

“A lot of it has to do with continuous pressure on developing programs and building that,” said Anthony. “We stay active in our community and help grow our programs and our youth events, and our business will grow with that.”

“Continuous improvement,” Keith stated. “Each spring Anthony and I and a couple of our tech people will go tour other archery shops. And we benchmark. Everywhere you go, you’re going to find something that somebody else is doing better than you are. But you also recognize things that aren’t being done as well, and that reminds you of why you do certain things.”

“We established advertising and marketing early on,” Anthony said. “In the first month, Laura told us we have to keep our foot on the gas when it comes to marketing. Even when things were challenging, we kept marketing, kept advertising.”

AB: What marketing strategies do you find most effective?

“For us, the best return on our investment is radio,” Laura said. “We do some TV advertising during the Packers games and at Christmas time, but it’s very limited. Billboards are okay. We utilize electronic billboards during bow season. A common billboard that we use is a countdown, so the billboard changes every day. We start in August: So many weeks until bow season starts. And we do quite a bit with social media.”

“We use social media in a lot of different ways,” Miranda explained. “We’ll use it to advertise our regular promotions and sales and events. It’s also about making sure people know what’s going on in your store. Today I posted a picture of our dog Halo sitting at the cash register. (Honestly, I think people come in just to see Halo.) A photo like that drives them to your Instagram page, and it makes them remember that they should probably get their bow serviced for league season or whatever is coming up. It’s about reminding people why they enjoy coming here. It’s a different kind of marketing because it’s not focused on the promotions; it’s focused on the feeling.”

“Facebook has a number of applications for business,” Anthony said. “Last year during the ATA Show we did almost a live update with manufacturers on their new products. We could do a live video with the manufacturer’s pro staff and one of our team members. This year businesses on Facebook have Facebook Live. It’s a live stream of a video. You’re getting real, intense content that’s not filtered. I figure there’s a lot more benefit to it. There are a lot of big manufacturers that can create content that’s flawless, but consumers want to see something real when there’s been a relationship established.”

AB: How does much of your business is bowhunters vs. recreational archers?

“On a percentage scale, bowhunters own our market,” Anthony said. “They pay our bills. But hosting birthday parties and events through Archery Academy complements who we truly are. It’s important for us to have the Archery Academy and provide intro classes to new archers. There are a lot of people in our community who want to get involved with archery, not hunting. It’s no different than people playing tennis or doing yoga. Recreational time is limited, but there are some activities that families can do together. Archery is one of them.”

“When the ATA did their initial Retail Growth Initiative seminars, Keith attended and he was all about it,” added Laura. “We were one of the first shops to adopt the program. We didn’t utilize the ATA’s template for the website – we were in the process of changing our website at that point anyway. We utilized the recommendations they made, but we made it our own. However, we were very attuned to the fact that we had to be able to address both the recreational and the bowhunting side on the front page of the website.”

“When you log on to our website, you make one of two choices,” explained Anthony. “And that’s whether you’re a recreational archery or a bowhunter. It takes you to two different places within our website. We don’t want to turn off non-hunters to what we offer. But we also want to take care of the people who are the core of our business. Is recreational archery important to your store? It’s vital if you want to support archery in your community.”

“When we first started, we had deer heads up all over the place,” Keith said. “Two things happened. One, we asked a competitor of ours to come in and give us an honest critique. He asked if we were selling deer heads. We said no. He said, ‘Then why are you taking valuable retail space up with deer heads?’ The other thing was, it made it uninviting to people who weren’t hunters. So the deer heads came down. We have some. We have a neat little bobcat and a bear and a turkey. That’s what you find in our retail area. When you go into the youth area, there’s not a single mount. It’s only when you go back to the big range area that you find a deer head.”

AB: What are some lessons you’ve learned that have made you a better dealer?

“In the beginning we didn’t pay enough attention to the P&L,” Keith said. “Because we didn’t pay enough attention to the P&L and the gross profit reports, we made a lot of mistakes. One example: used bows. In order to make the sale in the very beginning, we believed we had to take everybody’s bow on. And we ended up selling the bows for less than we bought them for.

“One of the things that we did right was we aligned ourselves with a very good point-of-sale system. It gives you the data if you just pay attention to it.”

AB: What role does Halo play at La Crosse?

“If you call the shop, the first thing you hear is ‘Hello, this is Halo, the dog at the archery shop. If you would like to talk to the Tech Center, dial 2…’” explained Keith.

“Understand who you are as a business, and don’t shy away from that,” said Anthony. “There’s no shame in being edgy. It’s not some big corporate environment. Even though as a pro shop we’re fairly large in size, we don’t lose the family feel of it.”

“It develops part of the character for the store,” Keith said. “It’s part of your brand, part of your image. This is why people are coming from a half a state away or more to our store.”

“It’s about marketing the experience,” Miranda added. “Halo has become part of the La Crosse Archery experience.”

AB: What products are you excited about selling?

“We look for products that reflect who we are as a business,” explained Anthony. “When we look at Mathews bow, it’s a pro-shop-only brand. Look at Sitka. That, too, is a pro-shop-only line. Our customers expect high-end products. It’s easy to get excited about something that’s premium. Bowtech has taken great strides in the last two years in establishing themselves as a pro-shop brand again. It’s something we’ve gotten behind and had a lot of success with.”

“The one that’s new to us the last couple years has been apparel,” added Keith. “When we started the business, we couldn’t sell clothing to save our lives. Over the last couple years, that’s starting to improve.”

AB: What advice would you offer other retailers?

“Never become complacent,” Miranda said.

“Complacency is a big thing,” Anthony agreed, “especially for shop owners that have passion within the industry but not necessarily within their business. It’s important to reinvent your business. It’s important for us to go on shop tours and get excited about it. It’s vital for our company to attend the ATA Show every year.”

“Get beyond your business,” Keith said. “When we started, Anthony was working almost night and day. We told him he needed a life. Because without a life, he wasn’t going to stay with us that long. We got him involved in a service group, and he became the youngest president of the Onalaska Rotary Club.”

“Service organizations gave me more purpose,” Anthony said. “It’s very easy to work a lot of hours for a short period of time, but you’ll burn yourself out. Rotary was a big part of my giving life. Miranda is the Miss Onalaska pageant director. It’s important to establish giving within your life, especially within your business. It’s easy for someone to donate a pack of broadheads to a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation banquet, but it’s much more important to establish time with different area organizations.”

“We make a corporate donation to each one of the clubs in the area, because we believe that by supporting them, they support us,” added Laura. “Because of their existence, there are more archers in the area.”

“Get outside your company,” said Keith. “Go see another shop. Don’t just go to the ATA Show. People don’t get out enough. Benchmark yourself against the competition. How do you stack up?”

“Don’t be afraid of being transparent with other store owners,” added Anthony. “If you’re not comfortable doing it across the street, do it across the state. People see your store and your business through different eyes.”


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